Geoff Macdonald got an unexpected late-summer treat.
The Vanderbilt women’s tennis coach had the disappointment of losing highly touted and nationally ranked junior Alison Riske. Alison, sister of former Vanderbilt All-American Sarah Riske, turned pro recently after having signed with the Commodores in the spring.
But, Macdonald wound up getting Rachael Dillon, who was the top junior player in Ireland, who recently transferred to Vanderbilt from Cal-Berkeley.
Vanderbilt, headed by ace Catherine Newman, will host the SEC Coaches Invitational tournament, beginning a three-day run Friday morning on the Commodore courts, with all 12 teams competing. Finals in singles and doubles are Sunday.
Dillon’s entrance came virtually out of the blue.
“I was scouting some talent at the National Junior tournament in Berkeley, and I ran into someone I knew, Lynn Rolley. She told me of a player who was interested in transferring, and it went from there.’’
The 6-foot Dillon, a native of Dublin, was ranked No. 1 in Ireland juniors and also played Fed Cup for her country, competing 2005-2008 at places as far away as Turkey. She had a 22-15 record in her two years competing for the Golden Bears.
“I started looking for a place very strong academically, with a great program and great coach, and Vanderbilt was all of those things,’’ Dillon said after a practice earlier this week. “It’s such a great atmosphere at Vanderbilt. I wanted someone like Geoff who can motivate and not insult my intelligence.’’
Dillon is world traveled, but with little stateside travel. She speaks fluent French as well as English.
“I’ve lived in four countries,’’ she said. “I was born in Dublin, moved to France when I was 12 for four years, then two years in England, before I came to the U.S. to play for Berkeley. But I’ve only been to about six states in the U.S. I’d never been to Tennessee before I arrived here.’’
Dillon must wait another week or so before she can begin playing. That’s to make sure all of her transfer credits go through smoothly after which she will have two years of eligibility remaining.
“I’ll just have to be a tall cheerleader this weekend,’’ she said.
Asked about her style of play, she said, “I’m an aggressive type player and, because of my height and reach, I really like doubles. I’m kind of feisty and fiery, something one might expect with my Irish background.’’
“Rachael is a wonderful addition to our team,’’ said Macdonald, who has taken all 15 of his Vanderbilt teams to the NCAA tournament. “She has a lot of personality, is very bright and very competitive.’’
“I love to study,’’ she said, laughing, acknowledging that a school like Vanderbilt will certainly challenge her in that aspect. She is a psychology major.
Losing Riske, who had an outstanding tennis summer, was a difficult pill for Macdonald to swallow. She had reached at least the semis of three USTA pro circuit tournaments.
“That’s kind of like the (NBA champ Los Angeles) Lakers losing Kobe Bryant, who says he’s going leave and go play in Greece,’’ he said. “I personally felt Alison should have gone at least one year to play in college. I don’t think she’s quite ready for pro tennis, but that’s her choice, and I wish her well.’’
Instead, the Commodores will have an Irish flavor to complement their team.